[Marxism] Bush and the fascist menace by Jack A. Smith Nov. 25, 2004

Ralph Johansen michele at maui.net
Wed Nov 24 02:55:17 MST 2004

<To begin with, why would the American ruling class and those who administer
the U.S. government decide at this time to substitute extreme
authoritarianism and/or fascism for the capitalist democracy that has kept
them in power and riches? Why, when the U.S. is at the apex of its
political, military and economic supremacy, with an empire of a new type
solidifying in its possession, would it create the conditions for havoc and
rebellion at home and catastrophe in the world?>
<Fascism, after all, is not the product of whim, pique, meanness or anger by
the right wing. It is the most drastic response to particular economic,
social and political conditions undermining the capitalist system itself,
upon which all other functions of state repose.>

Nov. 25, 2004  Issue #103

by Jack A. Smith <jacdon at earthlink.net>

[Editor's Note: The history of the United States has frequently been
punctuated by periods of political repression, from the Alien and Sedition
Acts of 1798 to the USA Patriot Act of 2001, and many, many instances in
between. In the modern era, serious repression has taken place under both
Democratic and Republic regimes. In the recent election, a number of
progressives raised the fear that the election of George W. Bush to a second
term would pave the way for fascism in the U.S.  We examine the question of
repression and fascism below.]
Every several years, the Republican Party puts forward a shockingly
reactionary presidential candidate. And each time, most liberals and certain
sectors of the left respond by insisting that the only way to save the
republic from deep repression, authoritarianism or fascism is for all good
citizens to come to the aid of the "lesser-evil" candidate of the Democratic
Party, regardless at times of the anointed one's stunning political
This has happened a number of times in just the last 40 years, principally
in the elections of 1964, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 2004, but it tends to
be a continual theme. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has gradually
metamorphosed from liberalism to centrism and now appears to be
contemplating yet another accommodation toward the right on the question of
social "values" ‹ evidently pursuing the theory that the best way to defeat
the right is to imitate it part of the way.
In 1964, the Republicans nominated arch-conservative Arizona Sen. Barry
Goldwater, author of the famous campaign line, "Extremism in defense of
liberty is no vice." A good portion of the left was hysterical about
Goldwater, calling him a precursor to fascism. He lost handily. The
Democrats convinced the electorate the GOP candidate was going to start a
nuclear conflagration. President Lyndon Johnson then went on to escalate the
Vietnam War to the extent that he became too unpopular to even run for
Richard Nixon won the GOP nod and the presidency in 1968 and 1972, despite
liberal and left warnings that he was a neofascist.  The sky didn't fall on
democracy, though it did on Nixon's head as a result of the Watergate
scandal.  His government was no more repressive than Johnson's.  In fact, as
we wrote in an earlier newsletter, the arch-reactionary, red-baiting Nixon
presided over some fairly progressive legislation. He was competitive on
that score with his two Democratic successors ‹ Jimmy Carter and Bill
A few years later, many on the moderate left  trembled at what they thought
was the near-audible cadence of jackboots on the cobblestones of American
democracy when the Republicans put forward B-movie actor, corporate shill
and so-called neofascist Ronald Reagan, who won in 1980 and '84.  A long
newsletter analysis of Reagan a couple of months ago clearly showed the man
was a reactionary, a militarist and imperialist. But fascist, or harbinger
of great repression? No.  Perhaps one of the more unattractive outcomes of
his reign was that it convinced leading Democrats to adopt portions of the
right-wing program in order to win future elections.
Now seated in the Oval Office for four more years is one of the most
ultra-conservative presidents in history, George W. Bush.  The fear that he
personally is leading the United States toward fascism is palpable among
many progressives. In our view, Bush is a dangerous right-winger, but he is
neither the personification, nor harbinger, of fascism.
Does this mean American democracy is too healthy and resilient to be
transformed into brutal authoritarianism, or even fascism? No.
Authoritarianism and fascism are proven variants of capitalist governance.
Dictatorial regimes have been imposed in many capitalist countries, often
with Washington's instigation and support, such as in Iran in the '50s or
Chile in the '70s.  Fascism has been experienced in Germany, Italy, Spain,
Hungary, Romania, Japan and other capitalist societies at one time or
another as a consequence of extreme crises.
Such a fate cannot be ruled out in the United States, though hardly as a
direct consequence of a Bush, or a Goldwater, a Nixon or a Reagan.  Each has
made contributions toward undermining democracy, as have dozens of American
presidents, including such Democratic Party icons as Woodrow Wilson with his
red hunts, Franklin D. Roosevelt who sent Japanese Americans to
concentration camps, or Bill Clinton with his antecedent to the Patriot Act,
the 1996 Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
There are troublesome signs in U.S. society today of an erosion of democracy
and a drift toward authoritarianism.  This is the accumulated product of
many Washington administrations. These signs include militarism, the
glorification of war and violence, imperialism, the unjustified increase in
police powers, the abrogation of civil liberties, intrusive surveillance in
civil affairs, reductions in the right to privacy, racism in its many forms,
the serial demonization of a revolving list of "enemies" (today it's Arabs),
unnecessary government secrecy, mass media purveyors of government
propaganda, White House-cultivated hyper-patriotism and nationalism, the
death penalty, draconian imprisonments for victimless crimes, the largest
percentage of prisoners in the world, the increasing power of religious
fundamentalism and anti-scientific ideas, homophobia, the justification of
torture, the widespread miseducation of youth in terms of history and
ideology, the widening rich-poor gap, the grave weakening of the union
movement, and the dominant role of huge corporations, financial institutions
and great wealth in ruling America.
This amounts to a dangerous situation for individual liberties, made all the
worse by Bush's first administration, but two things must be kept in mind:
(1) there have been repeated equivalent and worse situations in American
history that did not result in the destruction of democracy;  and (2) the
conditions required to transform capitalist democracy into fascism are quite
specific. We shall review each of these two points.
(1) Equivalent or worse situations:
We won't discuss the mass repression of human rights displayed by the U.S.
government in the 19th century beyond noting the obvious: (a) the
displacement and slaughter of the Native American peoples; (b) the
enslavement of millions of Africans; (c) the unnecessary collapse of
Reconstruction after the Civil War, leading to Jim Crow apartheid until the
1960s; (d) the denial to women of any rights to equality, including the
vote; (e) the maintenance of a system of child labor, the super-exploitation
of workers in general, anti-labor laws and violence against unions.  Instead
we will concentrate on a few 20th century incidents, against which to
compare the present Bush administration.
Woodrow Wilson's Espionage Act (1917) and Sedition Act (1918) resulted in
the imprisonment of up to 1,500 people just for speaking out against World
War I. It was made a crime to "criticize by speech or writing" the
Constitution or the U.S. government. Many thousands more were apprehended
and  illegally deprived of their rights for alleged violations of the draft.
Antiwar and socialist publications were banned from using the postal
service.  Foreign language newspapers in the U.S. were subject to federal
censorship. In 1919-20, Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer,
launched red hunts and attacks on radical unions, culminating in the "Palmer
Raids," when 10,000 people were rounded up in 33 cities, resulting in the
deportation of over 6,000 foreign-born leftists. Years later, an official
committee ascertained that that "federal agents [were] guilty of using
third-degree tortures, [and] making illegal searches and arrests." Wilson, a
white supremacist and imperialist, is remembered today as a great
humanitarian and idealist.
Repressive "little red scares" took place in 1908, 1935, and between 1938
and 1941. Throughout much of the same period, millions of black Americans
were not only denied equality, civil rights and many of the protections of
the Constitution, but they were lynched in the South with the approval of
local authorities, while the KKK operated with impunity in southern states.
Police and federal agents harassed unions and strikers during the period as
Democrat Harry S. Truman (with his 1947 Loyalty Oath) and then Republican
Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over the exceptionally repressive period after
the end of World War II and through most of the 1950s. Leftists of all
stripes were forced out of the union movement, while legislation (such as
the Taft-Hartley Act) subverted labor organizing. Socialists, communists and
even progressives (who at that time were to the left of liberalism) were
harassed and lost their jobs and often their standing in the community. The
leaders of the Communist Party, who were certainly not preparing to lead a
revolution, were imprisoned for many years and the organization was
virtually destroyed. The FBI and police infiltrated most left and
progressive organizations and kept voluminous surveillance files.
This was the (Joe) McCarthy period ‹ named after the leading anti-communist
in the Senate ‹ during which millions of Americans suffered repression in
one way or another and untold numbers of lives were ruined. Many suspected
leftists were called before congressional committees and were either forced
to testify against others or penalized for noncooperation. Progressives in
the arts, media, and film industry, among other occupations, were
blacklisted because of their political beliefs. People such as Leonard
Bernstein, Arthur Miller, Aaron Copeland, Paul Robeson, Orson Wells, Howard
Fast and Pete Seeger, were prevented from working at their trade and
calling. Many working people at the time had to sign loyalty oaths to the
U.S. government to get a job, and were fired if they proved to be
"disloyal." This writer, for instance, had to sign a loyalty oath as a
15-year-old to get a job mopping floors in a New York City public swimming
pool. A dozen years later after signing another oath, he lost a job after
being proven to be disloyal by virtue of opposing Selective Service. Those,
indeed, were the days.
Then came the 1960s and '70s, when the government encouraged the FBI and
local law enforcement to run wild. The FBI's COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence
Program) was initiated in 1956 but its worst excesses were during this
period, which also saw many city police forces setting up local "red
squads." In addition to "reds" and left unionists, the authorities also
focused surveillance, infiltration, repression and occasional violence on
civil rights workers, the antiwar movement, advocates of women's rights,
leftist student groups, radical African-American organizations such as the
Black Panthers, Latino groups like the Young Lords, and supporters of
gay/lesbian rights.
The FBI kept "subversive files" on millions of Americans, including such
luminaries as Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein. Thousands were
arrested. Some, such as young Fred Hampton, a Panther leader in Chicago,
were murdered by police.  By the mid-'70s, the situation was so out of hand
that Congress was forced to take measures to limit overt repression, but
incidents continue to this day.  Bush has already obviated a few of the '70s
restraints on police wrongdoing.
(2) Conditions for fascism:
The U.S. clearly has a long record of political repression in its history,
but it is realistic to suggest it is on the verge of fascism with Bush in
the White House?  
To begin with, why would the American ruling class and those who administer
the U.S. government decide at this time to substitute extreme
authoritarianism and/or fascism for the capitalist democracy that has kept
them in power and riches? Why, when the U.S. is at the apex of its
political, military and economic supremacy, with an empire of a new type
solidifying in its possession, would it create the conditions for havoc and
rebellion at home and catastrophe in the world?
Fascism, after all, is not the product of whim, pique, meanness or anger by
the right wing. It is the most drastic response to particular economic,
social and political conditions undermining the capitalist system itself,
upon which all other functions of state repose. Most of the following
conditions are required to activate a fascist regime of anti-democratic
terrorist dictatorship financed by corporate capitalism and combined with
anti-communism, militarism, national chauvinism, imperialism, and often race
(1) Fascism is created when a severe crisis besets the capitalist system and
democratic reforms or conventional measures, including repression, cannot
eliminate the danger. In formerly existing fascist states, the first task
was the destruction of political, labor and other organizations serving the
interests of the working class, which alone can seize the moment to replace
capitalism with socialism.
(2) The mostly likely such crisis to afflict capitalism would be a complete
economic breakdown caused by a devastating domestic and international
economic depression. This is a chief ingredient in the move to fascism. The
United States economy does not appear ready to experience a catastrophe of
this nature in the near future. The 1930s Great Depression came relatively
close, forcing the New Deal government of Franklin D. Roosevelt to initiate
an impressive program of social reforms intended in part to prevent the
possibility of socialist threats to a wounded capitalism.
(3) Another main condition for the transition to fascism is that the working
class-based revolutionary socialist left is in relatively close proximity to
contesting for power during a time of crisis. A variation of this theme is
if a left socialist party was strong enough to be elected to power.  Both
instances are quite remote today.
(4) The growth of fascism depends on the allegiance of a particular class
for its social base. According to the past experience of fascist states,
this is the middle class in the Marxist definition of the term ‹ small
business owners, professionals of all kinds, civil servants, managers and
executives of small-to-medium enterprises, and the like, who have been or
will be ruined by the economic crisis and the actual or feared demotion of
their class position. This social base is joined by elements of other
classes, but at all times big capital retains it primacy. The conditions
required to activate a social base for fascism and its appendages are not
visible in the U.S. today
(5) Powerful corporations tend to become the associates of fascism when the
system is put in place, based on previous history. While the U.S. is
dominated by corporate and financial wealth, there is no need to call upon
these entities to work with and financially support fascism as long as
capitalism is not in danger. When it is, as Hitler knew only too well, they
generally can be counted upon since corporate self-interest and profit, not
democracy, is their stock in trade.
These conditions for fascism clearly do not exist in America today, although
the left must always be on guard and prepared for the worst as a matter of
course because there are times in history when a grave crisis erupts
abruptly.  The Great Crash of 1929, after all, was a surprise to the all the
governments of the world.
Undoubtedly, serious erosions of civil liberties and repression have taken
place in the first four Bush years, especially during the post-9/11 roundups
of Muslims in the U.S. and in the passage of the USA Patriot Act and other
measures giving more intrusive powers to federal, state and local police
forces. This probably will continue in a second term, especially with a new
Attorney General who concocted a legal justification for the use of torture
against alleged terrorists.
The progressive movement must wage an intensified struggle against
government repression and attacks on civil liberties in the next period.
But suggestions that a second term for Bush presages fascism are premature
at best. However, the fear of a Republican "fascist menace" does seem to
help convince progressives, labor and certain sectors of the left to support
the Democrats rather than finally taking decisive independent action on
behalf of their own political interests.
Actually, as the Democratic Party continues its incremental meanderings to
the center and right, there will come a day when a broad, mass left third
party representing the interests of working people and dedicated to peace,
social justice and equality, takes hold in the U.S., as it has in every
other industrialized capitalist society in the world. Having a competitive
left party, as well as the right and center parties that now govern America,
is hardly a revolutionary development. It is a democratic necessity that is
long overdue. 

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